Houston Cougars basketball prepares for AAC tournament as NCAA Tournament looms

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Kinser/CSM/Shutterstock (13783451b) Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) drives to the basket during the first half of the AAC basketball matchup against the East Carolina Pirates at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, NC NCAA Basketball Houston at East Carolina, Greenville, USA – 25 Feb 2023

Houston Cougars basketball prepares for AAC tournament as NCAA Tournament looms

It is officially the postseason, and the first stop for the Houston Cougars basketball team will be in Fort Worth for the American Athletic Conference tournament.

No. 1 Houston dominated the conference slate during the regular season setting a new program record with its 17-1 mark, which also tied SMU’s 17-1 conference record during the 2016-17 season for best in the history of the AAC.

Houston’s impressive run, however, is now in the rearview mirror. With the Cougars beginning the postseason, they hope to use the conference tournament to not only prepare for the NCAA Tournament but they are also seeking to win another championship.

“It is win or go home, basically,” senior guard Marcus Sasser told reporters in a scrum after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s not, ‘we got another game next week,’ or something like that. That team is going to give you their all, so really, we got to go out there and play like it is our last game. Leave everything on the floor, and that is basically how March Madness is.”

The Cougars took care of East Carolina in their tournament quarterfinal, 60-46

For the players, the last few days of practices have been focused on themselves. Houston has addressed cutting down on fouls and limiting its turnovers, which have been escalating, junior point Jamal Shead said.

“Culture plays that we always do, little details that can happen in a game, just stuff like that [has been the focus],” Mark said. “Just doing what we normally do, going 100%, just going hard. Wherever we play, we are just trying to get out there with a win.”

Mark added that Sampson has reiterated to the players that whoever they play in the conference tournament will go out and play their hardest to try and punch their ticket in the NCAA Tournament through Houston.

The Cougars want to play the role of spoiler.

“We got to come out and play hard and can’t let that happen,” Mark said. “Just continue to do what we have been doing the whole season.”

If Houston advances to the championship game on Sunday, it will have played three games in three days.

Even though the conference tournament will not benefit Houston in terms of needing to win to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, Sampson is still in favor of playing the conference tournament. He did, however, acknowledge the importance of his players’ health on Wednesday.

“I am pro conference tournament,” Sampson said. “You don’t go into any game not trying to win, but we also know the bigger picture here is the NCAA Tournament. You want to be healthy going into that tournament.”

With the Cougars potentially playing again the following Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, keeping the players fresh could come into play this weekend.

For the players, the AAC tournament will offer a good test run at getting used to playing with fatigue, Shead said. Ultimately, their goal is just to win.

“It is going to be gruesome playing three games in three days,” Mark said. “Of course it is, but at the end of the day, we are all trying to win the game, and that is what we are going to try to do. No matter how much we are feeling [the games] on our bodies, we are going to come out and try to get the win at the end of the day.”

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